Spread the Word: Designing Health Messages


Arts OutWest’s Aboriginal arts and health project Spread the Word wrapped up at the end of May with final workshops in dance and digital design. Over the 20 months of the program hundreds of people have participated in arts activities linked to healthy lifestyle and promoting healthy messages.

This week Aboriginal artist Nyree Reynolds, with the guidance of graphic designer April Solomon, put the finishing touches on a new health poster Nyree designed as part of the project.

Poster designed by Nyree Reynolds

Poster designed by Nyree Reynolds

The graphic design component of Spread the Word aimed to give digital design skills to professional artists in the region and for these artists then to create culturally appropriate posters featuring health messages.

Over three full-day sessions, working out of the computer labs at Orange TAFE, April Solomon taught design principles and computer programs to a small group of artists.

“We worked to a brief,” April explains. “Staff from Aboriginal Health and from Mental Health came into the first session and we discussed the messages they most needed to promote.” With the artists she spent time talking about what was needed in a client brief. “We talked about context, audience and messages,” April said.

Given a list of health messages to choose between, Gamilaroi artist Nyree Reynolds elected to make a poster encouraging Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people to identify themselves when arriving at hospital emergency departments. There is currently an under-reporting of ATSI status in hospitals in NSW. A 2012 NSW Health report also found that Aboriginal people are more likely to leave the emergency department before completing treatment than non-Aboriginal people. Western Local Health District staff hope that by more people identifying themselves as Aboriginal, better processes can be developed and appropriate information provided to assist them through the triage process. It would also improve data collection and the identification and treatment of chronic disease.

“We then went back to our own [existing] artworks and found ones that worked for the message,” Nyree explains.

The artists learnt camera skills for photographing their art, and learnt about different file types, editing skills in PhotoShop, using InDesign for layout and preparing files for print.

Already a successful professional painter, Nyree has used these three sessions with April, and a last year’s Spread the Word digital design workshops, to develop computer design skills and confidence and to think about new ways of sharing and using her artwork.

“What I love it that I’ve learnt lots of little things, specific things” Nyree said. “It’s been really good. What I have learnt will be really useful, I’ll take it back to how I do my artwork… it’s taken me off in another direction.”

Nyree’s poster features her trademark bright background with faces and figures painted over the top.
“It was important to show Aboriginal people of different skin colours, and I’ve included the Aboriginal and Australian flags because people identify differently. The Australian flag represents someone like me who [is Aboriginal but] didn’t grow up Aboriginal” she explains. “The text I’ve chosen is ‘Don’t be shy. Indentify’.”

The posters will now go to print and will be displayed in health services in the region.

Nyree, who sits on the Blayney Health Council, felt the posters would be a really positive thing to see in the hospital.

Dance performance in Condobolin

In mid May, Jo Clancy, an Aboriginal dancer and teacher, spent time in Condobolin working with a group of young dancers who she has developed a relationship with over the past 6 years. They rehearsed a dance piece, a blend of traditional and contemporary motifs and styles, and performed it at a Lachlan Arts Council event in Condobolin on Friday May 24. Jo’s workshops also emphasised the importance of healthily eating, exercise and lifestyle for dancers. Jo similarly worked with young dancers from Cowra and Bathurst to create the welcome to country opener for the Catapult youth circus festival in Bathurst in April.

Other activities in the Spread the Word program have included the making of four hip hop tracks and film clips with Desert Pea Media (the final clip, from Lake Cargelligo, is due out in June), making short documentaries with elders and health professionals on chronic health issues; belly casting with young pregnant women and health workers; and visual art activities.

Spread the Word is a Local Community Campaign developed with funding from the Australian Government through the Department of Health and Ageing. Spread the Word is delivered by Arts OutWest in partnership with the Aboriginal Health Unit and the Aboriginal Maternal Infant Health Strategy (AMIHS).

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